Howard Week

March 28, 2004

Dancel offers to pay to put synthetic turf on a county field

A Columbia business executive is offering to pay to resurface one of Howard County's busiest playing fields with high-tech synthetic turf, a gift that would cost him nearly $500,000.

If Bernie Dancel's offer is accepted by the Department of Recreation and Parks, his donation would constitute the second-largest gift the agency has ever received, said Gary J. Arthur, the department's director.

Dancel, founder and chief executive of the Columbia-based Ascend One Corp., corporate parent of several businesses that provide financial counseling, wants to install artificial turf on one multipurpose field in Columbia's Cedar Lane Park that is used by football, soccer and lacrosse teams. Dancel hopes to see the turf installed and in use by the end of May.

School board seeks OK to extend Cousin's contract

The Howard County Board of Education has asked for state permission to extend interim Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin's four-month contract by one year - through June 30, 2005 - while members continue a national search to fill the job on a permanent basis.

"Staff morale has increased in the three weeks he's been here, and the climate has improved in the school system," said Courtney Watson, the school board chairman, who announced the extension request Tuesday. "We would like to continue that over the next 15 months."

State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, whose approval is required, is expected to rule on the matter by April 1.

Cousin, 58, took the job this month, agreeing to finish the four months left on former Superintendent John R. O'Rourke's contract. O'Rourke stepped down last month under pressure from the board.

Way is clear for witness' testimony in murder trial

Norman Harcum figures he was just a few feet from Jessup deli owner Kwang Jun Kim as Kim struggled with two assailants at the entrance of his Washington Boulevard business Oct. 8. His proximity, he said, gave him a "good look" at what was taking place.

When a detective showed him a photographic lineup several days later, Harcum said Walter James Blannon looked like the larger of the two assailants - the same man he believed fatally shot Kim, 53.

"When I looked at the picture, he was right there," Harcum, a deli customer about the time of the shooting, testified Tuesday during a hearing in Howard Circuit Court.

Defense attorneys offered Harcum's testimony, as well as a tape of an interview he gave police, in an attempt to convince Howard Circuit Judge James B. Dudley that Harcum's identification of Blannon, 38, should be suppressed. Blannon's public defender, Janette DeBoissiere, argued that the identification was tainted by the detective's actions and Harcum's apparent belief that the perpetrator's picture would be in the array.

Dudley disagreed, effectively giving prosecutors the go-ahead to offer the testimony at Blannon's trial June 28.

Battle with adult store may be costly to county

Howard County's five-year battle to defend its adult bookstore ordinance could cost county taxpayers as much as $200,000 - and that's just for the other side's legal expenses.

Backed by a Maryland Court of Appeals decision that declared the law unconstitutional last year, Pack Shack, the Ellicott City adult store that filed the first legal challenge to the ordinance, has asked the county to pick up its legal costs. And a Howard judge has ruled that the county has to pay.

Just how much was unknown last week. Howard Circuit Judge James B. Dudley reserved ruling on the specific amount for a future hearing. And while Pack Shack's Baltimore-based lawyers say they are owed more than $190,000 - plus any additional cost that comes from the fight over their fees - the county is expected to argue for less.

Howard County General sued in violent deaths

Two families are suing Howard County General Hospital, alleging that negligence by the institution - and mistakes made by its doctors - contributed to the violent deaths of their children during separate incidents in 2001.

Kevin Allen Virgil, who committed suicide after shooting at his girlfriend and barricading himself in his Ellicott City apartment, and Benjamin Morgan Hawkes, who fatally stabbed and bludgeoned his mother and a teen-ager staying at their Ellicott City home, had been treated at the hospital for psychiatric ailments within days of the violence.

Both were released by doctors who did not "adequately diagnose" and treat the psychological ailments of either man or recognize the danger they posed to themselves or their loved ones, according to two separate complaints filed last week in Howard Circuit Court.

Mary Patton, a spokeswoman for the hospital, said she could not comment on pending litigation.

Excise tax gains approval from a House committee

A key vote by a House of Delegates committee Thursday advanced a plan by Howard County Executive James N. Robey to generate more school construction money from a dedicated tax on new homes.

After a brief hearing Wednesday, the local Howard County bill was approved a day later by the House Environmental Matters Committee without debate.

The bill will move to the House floor and then to the Senate, where the process must be repeated before the session ends April 12.

The bill is expected to provide about $4.9 million a year in new revenue, which Robey wants to use to borrow about $58 million for school construction, and then pay off the bonds over time. The Democratic executive is to announce his capital budget for the next fiscal year this week.

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